Since the response to the photo I posted on social media elicited quite a few oohs and ahhs, I promised some people I'd post the recipe in my blog's "Recipe By Request" section. But first, of course, I had to write the recipe.
For this particular recipe, we're talking the classic Italian IN GUAZZETTO preparation, which basically means it's something slowly stewed in what it usually olive oil, white wine, a little broth, and often cherry tomato, onion, and garlic. It's a standard, particularly in southern Italy, where it's most commonly made with seafood or fish of some kind. This version is a bit fancier than your average in guazzetto, but fully in the tradition of using local ingredients and flavors of the southern half of the Italian peninsula. The stew is often served in some kind of shallow stew pot, cast-iron mini skillet, or some such stove-to-table vessel. It's a rustic presentation that I love.
Squid -- calamari, in Italian -- can be a tricky creature to cook, though I adore making it and eating it, for its versatility and briny, tender deliciousness...when it's done right, that is. Who hasn't endured a rubbery squid situation, which becomes an over-mastication situation, which is elevated to a sore jaw and where-can-I-spit-this-out dilemma? Don't let it reach an I-refuse-to-cook-calamari-conundrum! Following a few easy steps will provide you with a painless calamari cooking experience. The basic theory is this: squid is a protein which benefits from either a very quick, 2-3 minute toss in the pan (or deep fryer), or a longer, lower-temp stew on the stove. It's about hitting that sweet spot -- or rather, about avoiding the peak of the hill. What do I mean? Fammi spiegare (let me explain).
Basically all proteins all have a little cooking hill, as it were. A short cooking time will allow them to cook either to rare, or medium rare (in the case of a more dense protein like a steak or a chop), or juuuust enough to be perfectly tender and cooked through to be edible, as in the case with shrimp, scallops, calamari, etc. The longer you cook them, the higher up that hill you climb. When you reach the top of the hill is when the protein has reached its most firm, fully-cooked point -- which is when you DON'T want to eat it. Think a well-done steak, or shrimp that's been cooked to the point of being rolled up little balls of iodine-laden beach pebbles. Non bene! What we want is the sweet spot on almost-flat ground, as it were. So, you either sear the steak and enjoy it medium-rare, or throw it in a stew for 3 hours and enjoy the falling-apart tenderness that is a good boeuf daube. Similarly, calamari is either flash-fried or -sauteed, or stewed for longer, though the longer cooking time for squid is far shorter than for a beef stew. It's more like 3 minutes on the short end or 30 minutes-plus on the long end. Still, time flies when you're stewing calamari! (Okay no one says that, but we could try to make it a thing). As you will learn from doing, the slow braise is totally worth it and really a cinch once you get the hang of it. The recipe that follows is proof positive of that.
CALAMARI IN GUAZZETTO
1/2 cup top quality olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
2 liberal tablespoons of 'nduja Calabrian sausage*
1.5 pounds cleaned calamari, separated into tentacles and tubes sliced into rings
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons capers with a touch of their brine
1/4 cup dry white wine (preferably Italian)
1/4 cup fish stock (optional)
liberal squeeze of lemon juice
chopped parsley, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
(*'nduja sausage can be hard to find, though it's DEFINITELY worth seeking out. A decent substitute would be andouille sausage, whipped in a food processor with some olive oil to soften -- or even a soft Mexican chorizo could fill in here. Otherwise, make your own mixture of smoked bacon or pork belly, lots of chili flakes, and olive oil or lard pulsed in a food processor).
- Heat a cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet on medium-high until when you hold your hand over it, you can feel a good bit of heat. Pour in enough of the olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet.
- Throw in the celery and onion and let that cook for 2-3 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the sliced garlic. Turn the heat down to medium.
- Toss in the calamari and 1/2 of the cherry tomatoes, 'nduja, and capers + brine, and stir to mix the flavors up a bit. Cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes.
- Remove the cover and pour in the white wine. Let this cook, cover off, for another 5 minutes until the alcohol burns off but you still have plenty of liquid.
- Sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste and cover the calamari and continue cooking on medium-low for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the cover, toss in the second half of the cherry tomatoes, a bit more olive oil, and cover again to cook for another 10 minutes or so (if the calamari is a little dry here, you can add the fish stock, or even water, at this point).
- Test for doneness of the calamari. If it's not tender enough, keep cooking over low heat, covered, until it is.
- When calamari is tender, remove the cover and add the lemon juice and half of the chopped parsley. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and the rest of the freshly chopped parsley, and serve directly from the cooking skillet/vessel, with plenty of crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce!